Mar 26, 2017

BBQ: First smoke of the season: BBQ Failure.

Last weekend I cleaned out the smoker and spent nearly $100 on fresh meat.  Specifically, brisket and ribs.  My two favorite food groups:  Pork and Beef.  After trudging to the corner gas station to fill two propane tanks I've been avoiding for months, I was ready to start the smoker and already dreaming of the deliciousness that would send my taste buds into bliss later that night.   

My smoker of choice for the last few years has been the Smoke Hollow.  It is wide enough to fit a full rack of ribs without cutting them in half and has about five shelves.  It's perfect for smoking chicken, ribs, and attempting to cook brisket.  I'll admit I'm still in the attempting stage as far as brisket goes.  And probably will ALWAYS be in that stage.  But I digress...

It was cold outside, but shouldn't have been cold enough it disrupted the smoker's abilities.  But it did.  It took forever for the temperature to get up to even 150 degrees.  I put the brisket on around 3 a.m. and for many agonizing hours, viewed the temperature gage hovering around 200.  Nothing worked to get it up.  Eventually, I gave up the fight and moved the meat to the oven.  

As you can imagine, both the ribs and the brisket were not even in the category of "good."  Bummer.

Instead of troubleshooting, I decided I'd gotten all the love out of the Smoke Hollow I'd purchased years previously and went through the agonizing decision making process of replacing it.  

Having four BBQ's on my back patio made me hesitant to rush into anything.   I didn't need a duplicate of what I had...and if per chance I got the Smoke Hollow working, I didn't need two of the same brand.   How do you decide what to buy?  That's the million-dollar question.

I'll run you through that process in my next post.  

(Nothing like a blog teaser, eah?)  


Oct 31, 2016

RT2016 day 12 and 13: French Quarter Halloween

The final stage of Road Trip 2016's J2 (Jess and Jen's) Vacation was two nights at the Four Points Sheraton French Quarter.  We paid a small fortune and booked at least 9 months in advance to score a balcony room on Bourbon Street.  We know, we know, that's a tourist attraction. But it's a wild, crazy, scary, hog wild entertaining time.  It's supposedly better than Mardis Gras because the weather is more predictable.  During Halloween there is generally no rain and the weather is still pushing upper 70's.   So, for our entire trip, while back home in Oregon they are suffering through rain, we've been blessed with warm sunshine. 

View from our balcony
Lots of these type of costumes...and my favorites.
Our balcony room is on the 4th floor, which frankly, is a bit high to really get great photos.  It is also too high to, in my opinion, safely throw beads.  But, it's a great way to get the experience and not be in the thick of the madness.

Oh and what madness it is.  Take Vegas and multiply it times 1000.  Take the best Halloween party you've ever been to, add 100,000 more people and that many more costumes, and you get this.  It's a rip roaring, ear splitting, parade of freaks.   It's people in elaborate costumes walking stately through the crowd to drunks stumbling past with their shirts off and often in their tighty whiteys (or purple or reds).  It's a whole lot of men wearing less than they should be...tutus, speedos, naked lady costumes, feather boas, preacher outfits, and a hell of a lot of men in slutty dresses.  And speaking of slutty, there are a few hundred slutty ladies, drunk ladies, church ladies, regal ladies, and even scary ladies.  There are things out here that I may never forget, that my eyes won't forgive me for, and that my face will always have laugh lines to blame them on.  Every barn animal, video game, nursery rhyme, Disney movie, Saturday Night Live sketch, fiction and non fiction movie, every condiment, food, and even occupation has been accounted for.  No one or thing has been spared.  

Possibly a supporter of Alien Rights?
And then there are the parades.  They randomly come through the night, sometimes with a theme and other times not, bringing their marching bands, flashing lights, screaming costumed partygoers and beads.  Beads everywhere.  Beads being thrown from balconies, to balconies, on balconies, and on all the passersby who strut to and fro, oven passing our location up to 20 times or more.  As they pass, we can see the transformation the night brings...from sober partier to fantastically intoxicated breast showing irresponsible freaks of nature.

Hot guys were on the balcony below us.  Literally.  This one was burning up in this costume. 
Despite the noise and the smells of vomit, stale beer, sweat, all mixed with the fragrant of all types of food that torture of our senses, we keep watching.  It's too entertaining to turn away.  We spent around 5-8 hours just watching, laughing, tossing beads, comparing photos, toasting to the tragedy that is this scene.  This is what we came for.  To see grown men and women acting like animals. No doubt, that is what we have seen. 

We have also seen, here on Bourbon Street, the honest to goodness Church goers that come and try to push God's word in the faces of these animals.  These Churchies carry 15 foot crosses and bring word of how terrible homosexuality is, of how we are all going to hell, of how only the righteous will be saved.  They stand among the crowd with their bullhorns and their pamphlets fighting the good fight against evil.  From my view, on the 4th floor, it appears that the only real evil in life is not accepting everyone for how they are and trying to push your beliefs onto strangers.

Drag Queen vs. Churchies

Here, on Halloween, we accept them all.  We welcome them all. Halloween in the French Quarter is something I would encourage you all to do once in your life.  Take in the bliss that is the French Quarter, experience the freedom of becoming, just for one night or a weekend, whatever your heart desires. 

When the sun rises tomorrow, we'll be back to our normal lives.  We'll be packing our bags, preparing our trip back to reality.  A reality that starts and ends with working so we can afford to do whatever we want, to go where we want, only to be told we don't have enough time or money to do so.  This, on these streets littered with empty beer glasses, beads, religious flyers, and people all whacked out and dressed like crazy freaks...this is freedom, albeit short lived and perhaps a little more crazy than it needs to be.  And freedom is good.  Because when I sit at my desk on Wednesday at 6:30 a.m. prepared to finish the week this is what will keep me going.  I'll sit back and have a moment where I hear a little voice inside my head that says, "Remember when...."  And I'll smile
Because I'll always remember.  And those memories are what make up a life.


RT 2016: Day 11: Garden District Day 2

Dinner eating his dinner.  
Headed to a Gator tour today since Jenn decided she's not a chicken sh*t (for those of you who are not delicate, that word is shit).   The tour was a slow pontoon boat with about 25 people on board.  The captain was an original Cajun who actually lives in the Bayou (or so he said).   The tour was educational but frankly, the last one I took on a 6 man boat was a lot more entertaining to me...and we got a lot closer to and saw more gators.  There was a little chap of about 5' who swam toward our boat, snagged a marsh mellow then swam away.  By chap I mean gator.  That was about the extent of the excitement unless you count about two dozen turtles and a 2' gator that was actually on board in a box.  Everyone took turns holding it but I passed.  I don't play with my food.  Some great photos, though.

These were HUGE lily pads. 

I like to call this one "Jessica's photo" so if you see it on Jenn's page, you know who posted it first. 

Turtle family hanging out in the sun. 

Memorial for a victim of Katrina...his house is just out of the photo, totally demolished.   

After the tour, I stayed at the hotel while Jenn toured the Garden District.  She saw all these things that I was much too lazy to see:  Sandra Bullock's house, Peyton Manning's family home to name a few.  Me, I don't care where Sandra lives, though I wish her the best and if she's reading, please send money.  

But, I wasn't a total bore.  I did laundry.  You may think, oh, what a great way to spend your vacation, but I like the people part of vacation (partial lie) so I wanted to see who else was doing laundry while on vacation.  I spent probably 45 minutes talking to a great lady from New York.  She was a Walking Dead fan so we chit chatted about the latest deaths and about how it's much more than a zombie show.  In fact, I just read an interview by some famous dude who writes zombie movies (Mr. What's His Name) and he said the Walking Dead was actually a soap opera with zombies.  Hater.  Are you tired of the Walking Dead?  Write your own blog and you won't have to read this one. 

Later, I saw the woman and her entire family in the lobby.  They were dressed up and headed to the French Quarter.  Of course I had to take her photo.
Trump University Graduate to the left, my Walking Dead buddy (Cat) in the middle.
Also, in the lobby of our hotel, we saw a wonderful costume from Alice In Wonderland.  Check this one out.  It was made by the woman's son who apparently sews for drag queens.  Not sure what that means, but somehow the woman thought it warranted pointing out.  Fantastic costume! 

Back in the room, I took a nap and Jenn went into her room.  So halfway between awake and asleep, I have what can only be described as a haunting occur in the room with me.  Someone tried to push me upward while I was lying on the couch.  I shit you not.  Scared the bejebus out of me.  I can only imagine I was not awake and was dreaming, but it was one of those dreams that stick with you and makes you wonder if you really are alone....I told Jenn about it and she said she had some weird dreams the night before about the haunted house behind the hotel.  Great.  Fantastic. 

We slipped off to Voodoo BBQ in order to calm my nerves and build my strength.  And that night, you can bet I slept with the EMF reader near my bed.  And with the light on.  Around 5 am I grew a pair and decided to turn the light off.  I got back in bed, got comfy, and the darn EMF reader went off like a fire alarm, beeping and flashing.  Scared the living crap out of me.  Seriously.  It had been on all night without a peep and the second I turn the light off, I get a reading.  After a quick change of diapers, I went back to sleep and didn't have any other issues.  

Note to self:  EMF readers suck.  

Oct 29, 2016

RT 2016: Day 10: Myrtles Plantation to New Orleans

Leaving Myrtles Plantation slightly disappointed for not having seen one ghost, we headed toward some other plantations and New Orleans.  Apparently the plantations think they are worth a lot more than I do.  We drove past a few plantations and Jenn took photos...but didn't tour any. 

Our first stop was Katie's Restaurant.  This place has a Portland vibe.  And the food, oh the food is worth the stop!  Garlic Feta Fries, Hulu pizza (Canadian bacon, pineapple, chicken, and BBQ sauce) were both fantastic.  Seriously, if you get to New Orleans and you don't stop at Katie's, you are missing a gem.  

After trudging through traffic we arrived at the in the Garden District at Avenue Plaza.  (Thank you to Jenn's aunt for allowing us to stay here!)  Avenue Plaza is a large Worldmark resort that is directly on the trolley line with great restaurants within walking distance. 

After ditching the rental car (because you don't need a car in New Orleans in the tourist sector and certainly don't want to pay for parking, if you can find it) we made our way to Royal Street for a Killers Tour.  

Walking what seemed like miles in the hot, humid, action packed French Quarter was a lot like waking up in Vegas to find you're tied up and have been placed in the trunk of a Ford Fiesta. Not like that's happened, YET, but I can imagine it would suck.   Our tour met in the front of a famous building that houses spells and other freaky stuff I'd rather not mess with.   Yeah, potions and spell ingredients?  No thanks.  Church is starting to sound better and better.

Our tour guide was a festive drama queen named Randy who was very entertaining.  He was very knowledgeable and very, very peppy.  Loved him.  During a pit stop we found out his master plan is to move to New York, work in a gay bar (you know, cause he's gay, which I pretended to be shocked about), and drive an Uber. It was pretty interesting to listen to him. He has such a passion for life.   Just being around him made me want to go to NY and work in a gay bar so I could watch him in action.  I think he's a real heart breaker who does it with flair and a lot of waving of the arms and intense facial expressions. 

Back at the hotel I pulled out the sleeper sofa (I'm getting the luxury arrangements) and quickly dozed off.  Jenn, again, was unable to sleep due to the spirits who came to her dreams.  I'm pretty sure she had nightmares about the tour but she's certain it has to do with the haunted house on the property.  All I know for sure is I'm glad I'm not paying the light bill on this place. 

RT 2016: day 9: Biloxi to St. Francisville, LA Haunted Plantation

Jenn returned to the room late with no millions.  The next morning we hit the road and headed to St. Francisville, LA.   What was there?  Haunted plantation of course.  But, prior to getting there, we had to pass a Bass Pro Shops.   When I travel I stop at almost every Bass Pro Shop and or Cabelas that I see.  Apparently, Jenn does not.  Upon walking up to the doors, Jenn's first comment was, "Are you kidding me?"  She was obviously impressed.  More so when I took her upstairs and showed her the shooting range.  I was talking it up since Jenn is totally voting the wrong way, I figured she'd have a problem shooting even a toy gun.  I told her I took a gun on vacation with me every time we've traveled and she had a little baby calf running around until I said, well, if you're opposed I can go ahead and save only myself if necessary.  After talking to people about the dangers of travel, she decided a gun was fine.   I'm still only saving myself.  

Entrance to Heaven.   Note the alligator door handles.  Pretty cool place. 

Shotgun shark.
Anyway, Jenn is the pool shark of target shooting.  She kicked my butt (and right now, after reading this, her head is so big that I'm sure she's going to have difficulty getting back into the car to move hotels).   And although I beat her score once, she kicked my butt three out of four times.  All I can say in my defense, because YES, it matters, is that I'm the one packing the Glock.  I'm sure if I handed it to her she'd pee.  Or she'd throw it at the person and run. 

I shopped at Bass Pro while Jenn walked around and looked bored.  Now she knows what I feel like at all these historical sites.  I didn't dilly dally as long as I would have had I been alone, and before I knew it, we were back on the road to our night's accommodations. 

We headed to Myrtles Plantation for a night of ghost hunting and scary stories.   Horray!  Another plantation!

Side yard of Myrtles Plantation
Myrtles Plantation is either the most haunted place in Louisiana, the most haunted place in the USA or not haunted at all.  Depends on who or what you believe.  We stayed in the Caretakers Cottage which was a very cute stand alone cottage that sits behind and to the side of the main house.  Story has it on the front porch you can hear the old caretaker walking back and forth at night.  So of course, I let Jenn have the bed near the front porch, door, and window.  I pretty much wanted to ensure Jenn experienced the best possible haunting and frankly, there was a back door I planned on running out screaming if needed. 

Dinner was at the Plantation at the Carriage House Restaurant with turtle soup.  As darkness approached, we started walking around the grounds looking for ghosts and trying not to die of a heart attack.  I took the below photo when it was pitch black outside.  It clearly shows a man hanging from a tree...or a piece of Spanish Moss that was closer to my flash. 

Man hanging from a tree.  Can you see the rope?   Just call me Ghost Hunter.
After our scary walk we went back to the Caretakers Cottage and used the EMF readers to check out whether we would sleep that night.  The EMF reader was on my bed and kept going off as I was watching videos about the Plantation.  That seemed weird.  So finally I broke the cardinal rule of ghost hunting (at least when you aren't being filmed for a TV show) and I started asking the spirits questions.

Me:  "Are there are any spirits near me?"
EMF reader indicated yes.
Me:  "I think that was an error.  Are there any spirits near me?"
EMF reader indicated yes.
Me:  Uncontrollable fear induced chuckling:  
"This thing must be broken.  Are there any spirits near me?"
EMF reader didn't do anything at all.
Me:  "That's more like it, see, we're safe." 

Since I was on a roll, I started asking other questions and Jenn pointed out it wasn't a magic 8 ball.  Whatever.  After getting the answers I wanted, I drifted off to sleep without an issue.  Jenn on the other hand ended up staying up until around 2 am hearing steps on the front porch.  Better her than me.

RT 2016: Day 8: Savannah, GA to Biloxi, MS (yes, I wrote Biloxi) 10/26/16

Today we left the hotel early and headed toward Alabama…our goal was to go through Alabama and arrive in Biloxi, MS in time for some gambling and BBQ.  Not much to see along our route and thankfully, there were no historical things that Jenn just couldn’t pass by.  It helped that Ms.  Jenn was slightly hung over from a night of sipping martini’s that tasted like candy bars.  Note to self:  If it’s too good to be true, it is. 

We made it to Montgomery, AL and stopped at a great place called Southern Comfort BBQ.   Jenn keeps protesting about the amount of meat she’s eating yet she ordered the pulled pork sandwich.  That thing probably had about half a pound of beautiful pork on it.  I ordered the ribs and despite them being a bit overdone (which I’m sure is difficult to avoid when cooking in mass production), the food was worth the trip.  Jenn and I both highly recommend the potatoes and white gravy…yumalicious.  

We decided to push forward and through Alabama and around 5 pm we made it to Mississippi.   Thanks to Jenn’s great planning we stopped for a quick taste at a special bbq place called The Shed BBQ.   I like to point out that I would have stopped anyway if she wouldn’t have planned the trip since they had billboards up 50 miles out with fair warning that the place was at exit 57.  But, one person’s precisely planned trip is another person’s fate.   Now, be warned.   This is not the place you want to bring your future in laws if you are trying to impress upon them your maturity or your excellent taste in BBQ locations.  It is, however, the place to go if you want to explore, satisfy your bbq taste buds, and even listen to great music. It was difficult for me to find the entrance and in fact, a rather embarrassed man opened the door on my head, which clued me in that there was a door.   I’m very smart.   Seriously, this place is a long, winding hot mess.   It is reportedly made of all recycled materials that have been haphazardly placed to design a long, awkward maze of style and grace.  You’ll quickly find that yes, it is a modge podge of various artifacts held together with nails, glue, and probably duct tape.  But what’s inside this monstrosity really matters.  And what’s inside is what you come for.  There is a small area of wooden decking in the “store” area where shirts, hats, rubs, sauces, glasses, and everything else you can imagine lies in wait for the overzealous consumer (that would be me).   Once you order, you walk (carefully as to avoid the bicycle wheels, license plates, shot glasses, boar’s heads and hanging t-shirts) to an inside eating area that consists of painted picnic tables arranged on gravel flooring.  Yes, I said it, gravel.   There are so many pieces of, well, for lack of a better word, crap, in this place that you could literally return day after day for the next ten years and find something new each and every time.  It’s a scavenger hunter’s dream combined with eclectic tastes and some of the very best brisket I’ve had this entire trip.  But the brisket is just the tip of the pig, I mean, cow.  (And brisket isn’t on the tip of the cow either, just sayin).  We ordered some appetizer that resembled a hush puppy that was filled with cream cheese, peppers, corn and some other magical spices.  This was amazeballs.   That was not the name, but it should be.  (The Shed, feel free to use this name and just pay me a small dividend.)     

The Shed.  Literally.  Naw, this is just a portion of The Shed. 

Your eyes do not deceive you.  Chickens and cats in the parking lot. 
See why I didn't know where the door was?  It's a long, dirty maze of goodness. 
Finished the night at Harrah's in Biloxi,  honestly, I wasn't sure if Jenn was ever coming back.  She went down with 100 bucks and three hours later I hadn't seen her.  I started to wonder if she had been kidnapped by rowdy 90 year olds or if she was on a winning streak. 

My winning streak was brief.  It entailed about 20 bucks and 15 minutes at the Walking Dead slot machine.  I won big (that would be $27 bucks) then lost the 27 plus most my original 20 within about five minutes.  In the elevator on the way back to the hotel, alone, cold, tired, and wet (ok, just tired), I held the remaining change in the palm of my hand, showing the man in the elevator my spoils.  He said, “Look on the bright side, you really only lost roughly $19.75.” Then he skipped out of the elevator with a smile on his face.  Yeah, laugh it up, old man, laugh it up.  

RT 2016: Day 7 Savannah, GA (Day 2)

On this glorious vacation day we ate a pretty crappy breakfast at the hotel and then took a bus to the hop on hop off tour start.  After much deliberation, we opted to try this since I am lazy.  I figured a 90 minute tour of the area and then unlimited on and off privileges would be stellar. 

For all you movie buffs, apparently the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was filmed here.  As was Forrest Gump, Forces of Nature, and Something to Talk About.   Both the tours we took here talked a lot about Midnight in the Garden and apparently, prior to that movie, you could purchase a home for little to nothing.  So thanks movie fans.  Really appreciate it.   I certainly can't afford to move here now. 

The Pirates House.  Looks like a craphole.  But it's not.  Really. 
For lunch we stopped at The Pirates House and had a cheeseburger and a catfish sammy.  The cheeseburger was thick, juicy, and topped with pimento cheese.  Fabulous!  Jenn and I ordered a pirate drink and snagged an awesome pirate know, so when I'm at work, sitting at my desk, thinking about my future I can look at the mug and smash it against my...wait, I mean, so I can remember how much fun vacation was.   Nice, strong drink.  Cheesy mug.  That's what vacation is about.  That and listening to Jenn as she worries about everything from bug bites to my driving.  And I'm a perfect driver.  Not one accident yet.  Sure, a lot of near misses.  But not one recordable accident.

After food, we got back on the trolley and headed to a church.  I'm not usually allowed in churches (something about spontaneous combustion) but since the trolley driver said they let anyone in, I assumed I'd be safe.  And safe, I was.  I didn't stand too close to the open flames although I did tempt fate enough to take a photo.  This was a Catholic church called 
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.  This place was so beautiful.  It made me want to convert.  Then I realized there was still time for me to catch fire, so I snapped some more photos of the beautiful windows (yea, I know, probably sacrilegious) and we took off to see a haunted house.  Wouldn't want that goodness from the Church to sink in.

We toured the haunted and historic Sorrel Weed House.  This place has a great story behind it.  Most recently, it was a house above and store below.  The current owner bought it and ripped all that storefront crap out and was beginning to restore the home...when he found some hidden gems.  First he found a draft of Robert E. Lee's surrender letter (which is probably worth more than ALL of my possessions) and a parlor glass and decanter set, that was hidden in the ceiling.  Just goes to show you, make sure you look UP as well as DOWN.   This house has a sad story about a woman who walked in on her cheating husband and then somehow ended up either being thrown or jumping to her death off the balcony.  If that would have been my husband, HE would have gone over the balcony.   The slave girl who was sleeping with the hubby apparently killed herself a few weeks later in the house.  Sad stuff.  Moral of the story:  don't cheat.  Or get caught.  Or kill yourself. 

After 7 hours of touring around the historic area of Savannah, I was more than done.  I dumped Jenn after the haunted tour and took off back to the hotel.   I ended up eating a great meal the The Olde Pink House.  That place had a great drink called the Pink Lady.  It's raspberry Absolute vodka and lemonade.  Afterwards, we met up again and Jenn went to the Olde Pink House and had some fried thing.  Then I went back to the hotel since I'm older and wiser than Jenn.

Jenn.  Poor Poor Jenn.  She wanted to try a place called Jen's and Friends Bar where they apparently make martinis like rice crispy treat, smores, get the idea...candy like.   Jenn didn't come crawling into the hotel room until after midnight and when she did, she just repeated herself over and over.  It went something like this:

Me:  "Did you have fun?"
Jen:  "Yes, I had a rice crispy treat martini and I met some guys from Australia and a woman who just bought a house.  Guess how much the house was?  $78,000.  Can you believe it!" 
Me:  "Sounds like fun."
Jen:  "It was so much fun!  I met a woman who just bought a house and guess how much it was?"
Me:  "$78,000?"
Jen:  "$78,000!  Wow!  Can you believe that!"

Yes, I can believe it.